Rockefeller impostor acted odd but isn't a killer, his lawyers say
Defense attorneys Monday said they would not deny that Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter changed his name numerous times, acted oddly and went out of his way to avoid authorities wanting to ask him about the 1985 death of John Sohus.
Gerhartsreiter's attorney, Brad Bailey, said his client was "a strange guy, an odd guy," but that did not prove he committed "a murder that nobody witnessed."
Bailey's statements to the jur, followed opening remarks by prosecutors who said the evidence will show that Gerhartsreiter, 52, killed Sohus and buried his body in the victim's San Marino backyard.
Sohus and his wife, Linda, lived in the house with Sohus' mother. German-born Gerhartsreiter — whom the Sohuses knew as Christopher Chichester — lived in the guesthouse, authorities said.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors presented their opening statements to a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury Monday. Gerhartsreiter is in custody in Los Angeles in lieu of $10-million bail.
Gerhartsreiter, his attorney said, has gone by the aliases of Chris Gerhart, Chris Chichester, Chris Crowe, Chip Smith "and some others." For years he convinced people, including his wife, that he was Clark Rockefeller, a member of the billionaire family and New England high society.
John and Linda Sohus vanished in February 1985. Shortly after their disappearance, Gerhartsreiter also disappeared from San Marino, telling people he had to leave to take care of family business, Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian said.
Gerhartsreiter, wearing a blue suit jacket, smiled as he was escorted into the courtroom. He looked at projected photographs of the Sohuses shown to jurors and took notes.
In 1994, construction workers digging a pool in the backyard of the Sohuses' former home found bones wrapped in plastic bags inside a fiberglass box. Defense attorneys "will not be disputing that the bones were John Sohus', and … we will not be disputing that he was murdered," Bailey said.
Bailey said that no one witnessed Sohus being killed and that prosecutors have only circumstantial evidence, involving Gerhartsreiter's odd behavior and many identities.
"There isn't going to be much more than that in terms of solid evidence to this quite old, once quite cold and still untold case," he said.
Gerhartsreiter, using the Rockefeller name, was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter. He was convicted in Massachusetts in that case and extradited to California while serving a four- to five-year prison term. He was charged in 2011 in connection with John Sohus' death.
Although Linda Sohus was never found, authorities have said they presume her to be dead.
Bailey told jurors it was possible that Linda Sohus, whom he described as "just as odd" as his client, killed her husband.
"There are just as reasonable inferences for you to assume that John Sohus' murderer might have been … the missing Linda Sohus," Bailey said.
The case, he said, is "a classic case of whodunnit."
— Hailey Branson-Potts
Photo: Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter in court for opening statements in his trial Monday. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times